Tai Piazza: From Undeclared Major to World Traveler

For someone who didn’t know what he wanted to do when he came to college, Tai Piazza sure made the most of his Xavier experience.

He was the first in his family to attend college, so he had to feel his way along. But he also took advantage of every opportunity that came his way, which included a semester in New Delhi, India, a job building sets for the Xavier Players theatre program, and an internship he picked up with an international company when he visited the Career Fair on campus.

That internship turned into a full-time job and today, Piazza is living in Los Angeles working as a regional sales manager for that same company, Ohmart/VEGA Corporation.

The company provides sophisticated level instrumentation to manufacturers of oil and gas, petrochemical and mineral mining industries, and Piazza is responsible for working with distributors in the western states and developing strategic business. Prior to being assigned to the west, he was responsible for sales in Southeast Asia, often traveling around the world to meet with company clients and do market research.

“It offered me the most opportunities for the near future because of their international business in the energy industry in southeast Asia, India, China, South Korea, Japan and the Middle East,” he said.

Piazza was drawn to worldwide travel because of an aunt who lives in Naples, Italy, where he still has family, and some travel he did in high school to Central America. Coupled with his interest in global affairs that was sparked in high school in St. Louis, Piazza made sure he found ways to go places.

That included saying yes to an academic service-learning semester in Delhi, India, when he was a sophomore. For nearly five months, he lived in a convent, studied global religions, culture and society, and the Hindi language, and used his carpentry and business marketing skills to help improve small business operations in a women’s cooperative.

 My story is interesting because I came in absolutely not knowing what I wanted to do my freshman year.

“India is an incredibly diverse country with stark contrasts between those that have and those that do not,” he says. “These were very important lessons to learn early in life, mainly the interpersonal skills and situational fluency, which I believe I have paid forward in my career.” 

The experience was transformative, and he realized he wanted to do something involving business, economics and the political aspect of economies—but with an international flair.

“My story is interesting because I came in absolutely not knowing what I wanted to do my freshman year,” he says. “But from that experience in India, it solidified more what I wanted to do, so I got involved in international affairs because it offered me the opportunity to have political science and economics and international business.”

Before making his decision about his major, however, he did what he always did when he didn’t know what to do. He talked to his advisor.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to have good counseling,” he says. “When you come in, you know nothing and it’s a new place and you have to get a good start and not get into something where you drown right away. If you don’t know yet, doing just the core is the best thing. Take a language and philosophy and theology, and you might be able to find what you want to be doing.

“I was interested in so many different fields and I was blazing my own trail as the first in my family to go to college,” he says. “My naiveté worked to my benefit because I would utilize any resource I had, and one source was my professors and talking with them and my advisors and part of it was going out of my way to meet people. If you tap into that resource, they’re there to help you.”

Piazza graduated a semester early in 2009 with a degree in International Studies with a concentration in International Business and went right to work for Ohmart/Vega, which converted his internship into a full-time job.

He loves the work and the traveling, but he’s also interested in the world of international non-profit development.

“In the future, I would like to work in the development industry like with the UN or World Food Program,” he says. “My parents have sacrificed more than I can pay them, so it’s time for me to help them, and once I fulfill my financial obligation to them, it would be time to work in development and the non-profit world.”